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US sanctions target Putin’s inner circle

President Barack Obama makes a statement on Ukraine, Thursday, March 20, 2014, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington before departing for Florida. President Barack Obama said the US is levying a new round of economic sanctions on individuals in Russia, both inside and outside the government, in retaliation for the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine. He also said he has also signed a new executive order that would allow the U.S. to sanction key sectors of the Russian economy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama makes a statement on Ukraine, Thursday, March 20, 2014, on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington before departing for Florida. President Barack Obama said the US is levying a new round of economic sanctions on individuals in Russia, both inside and outside the government, in retaliation for the Kremlin's actions in Ukraine. He also said he has also signed a new executive order that would allow the U.S. to sanction key sectors of the Russian economy. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON — Raising the stakes in an East-West showdown over Ukraine, President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered economic sanctions against nearly two dozen members of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and a major Russian bank that provides them support. He warned that more sweeping penalties against Russia’s robust energy sector could follow.

Russia retaliated swiftly, imposing entry bans on American lawmakers and senior White House officials, among them Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer and the president’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes.

European Union leaders said they, too, were ready to close in on Putin’s associates, announcing plans to impose travel bans and asset freezes on more Russians involved in the territorial clash with Ukraine. The Western aim is twofold: to ratchet up the costs for Putin’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and to head off any further Russian military inroads into Ukraine.

“The world is watching with grave concern as Russia has positioned its military in a way that could lead to further incursions into southern and eastern Ukraine,” Obama said, speaking from the South Lawn of the White House.

Putin, rather than backing off as the West warns of costs, has defiantly moved military forces into Crimea, backed a referendum in which the Crimean people overwhelming voted to join Russia and then signed a treaty formally absorbing the strategically important peninsula into Russia. In Ukraine, pro-Russian forces seized three Ukrainian warships Thursday, and U.S. officials acknowledge privately that there is little chance of Russia giving up Crimea now. The more pressing concern is stopping Putin from pushing into other Ukrainian areas with large ethnic Russian populations. Thousands of Russian troops are currently positioned along Ukraine’s eastern border. The Pentagon said Russia’s defense minister assured Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that those forces have no intention of crossing into Ukrainian territory and are only in the region to conduct military exercises. The two men spoke by phone for an hour.

Among the 20 individuals sanctioned were Sergei Ivanov, the Russian president’s chief of staff, as well as Arkady Rotenberg and Gennady Timchenko, both lifelong Putin friends whose companies have amassed billions of dollars in government contracts. Also sanctioned: Bank Rossiya, a private bank that is owned by Yuri Kovalchuk, who is considered to be Putin’s banker.

Obama also signed a new executive order that would allow him to sanction key Russian industries, actions that could have a harsher impact on that country’s economy. “Russia must know that further escalation will only isolate it further from the international community,” Obama said.

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